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Something akin to Punk: And the Apathetic Generation: An Afterthought – pt. 1


“No one is in a hurry to say goodbye”, Will Self commented when discussing the baby boomers and their immediate descendants, in his recent, Point of View on bbc radio 4. Entitled Pity the Young, the content of Self’s short monologue seemed fittingly apt to me when considering this long overdue Afterthought to Edgar Davies’s series of articles: Something akin to Punk: And the Apathetic Generation, and how best one might culminate his rather broad thesis. I certainly connected with both his (as I had done previously with Davies’s) sentiments; describing how today’s young people have become a sort of ‘fodder’ – culturally and economically – created by a system that, as Davies suggests in his series of texts, is largely working contrary to their interests, wishes and expectations. One of the examples Self gives is how today’s youth are continually being moralised towards; regarding how an unquestioning respect must be held for one’s elders; or specifically, all those more ‘experienced’ individuals who are in positions which one should naturally aspire to attain. These success stories are of course almost always measured by and compared against their paradigmatic system of exchange; an ideological structure devised and promoted by these older generational forces. Their preconceived notions of ‘acceptability’ – by which I mean those certified by the mainstream media, party political systems and the schemes which structure all aspects and forms of our ‘commerce’ – we are expected to believe, are the primary ‘forces for good’ within our society. However as Self alludes to, and which is a matter of particular relevance here, the ‘respect’ that our more ‘fledgling’ generations are expected to have for their far more economically vital ancestors, is not one which is meaningfully reciprocated in anyway. Such a suggestion in itself is also currently viewed at best presumptuous and if pushed to widespread acknowledgment, positively subversive and certainly to the detriment of those making it.

However, as his title too suggests, Self describes in this program how the current youth of our society, should be ‘pitied’. They are being “squatted on”, he suggests by the “giant warty toad” that is the baby boomer generation. In this metaphoric action: “squatting”, what is crucially happening is that they are very successfully controlling and shaping our society and, culturally speaking, devising their preferred nostalgic direction for all aspects of the arts and culture – which Davies is at lengths to describe in his text. Subsequently, I consider if this pity does occur (and incidentally, I can assure those reading this that it won’t), whatever form this sympathy might take, to simply accept and attempt to subserviently work within a system as a sort of misfortunate citizen, truly would be the worst of all possible outcomes for young people situated in these socially unprecedented times. Therefore, by assessing what Davies describes in his 4 previous chapters and from my own experiences, I will seek to present some possible courses of action and proposed political steps that we as a group might take within the arts (as has been the focus here), in order to not allow ourselves to become fully surrendered to this system and its set of ideals which we now acknowledge are not serving us particularly well, and in many instances are in fact working against us as our society’s young people. Consequently, if such ideas are not examined properly and meaningful social shifts devised, I suspect as a group all we can realistically expect is for the type of ‘pity’ Mr Self so eloquently describes.

So the Thatcherite legacy has now unquestionably left us with a truly free market economy (of which we can argue the merits of on another occasion I suspect), more inflated and carrying more influence than ever before. However its strength is fundamentally driven by only a select group of the very largest multi-national companies and organisations. These groups, whose financial scale has enabled them to both hold huge amounts of political power; and as a result, the freedom of their operations and financial/social obligations have become largely voluntary, functioning out with the ‘normal’ state centred tax contributory systems. As this system has grown and developed to where we are at present, it has continually marginalised smaller, perhaps even weaker businesses and business models, until their existences become impossible. I do accept the point that such financial culls have always been common during periods of economic instability, however never have we had such a fiscal model as this (which is gaining more and more economic and political powers all the time) that allows only the biggest global, multi-national sized companies to exist and truly prosper within the system. This vast wealth, we have seen is continually concentrated in and around the same core groups. What this has created within the arts and higher education generally, is a sort of reflection of these economic trends. Of which I mean: as the arts and the university systems have become more and more self supporting, essentially becoming businesses, similar to any other, with the same constraints and pressures related to profit making faced by all global ‘brands’; then in turn, only the most financially stable individuals, which generally also equates to those with the greatest access to the arts, and come from the type of backgrounds where this sort of education is available and can render this accessibility possible – these people are therefore far more able to endure the difficulties that come with this sort of ‘career choice’ and as a result have an overriding presence in this cultural arena. Additionally – and as Davies was at lengths to describe in his earlier examination of this issue – the type of works being produced by much of this new group of young(er) artists seems to understandably contain all the hallmarks of today’s society; orientated around and concentrated on big business and the current capitalistic model. Except in this moment, these elevated artworks are so blatantly lacking in much of the questioning tones, associated in the past with works traditional connected with the tertiary educational system. However, having said all this I do not think this situation is by any means an exclusive one. I frequently observe works by practitioners who do not fit this mould and therefore, in various ways sit apart from this rather self-seeking, confirmative scene. In fact this is a vital detail that I am glad can always be accepted without too much debate about its presence. Whatever Thatcher’s legacy is, or what the current position of the art establishment and higher educational structures are, we can be grateful that there will always be artists and thinkers who do question the systems they operate within (or negotiate) and manage to make works which are not simply a process of ‘being relevant’, but are some kind of singular vision – one which has the power of conviction and the purpose to interrogate and often unsettle the establishment, in all its various forms and semblances. These groups and individuals may well be operating within the margins of the current system, but as the most significant, time honoured/tested cultural episodes have proven, the most important of all events tend to come from the peripheries of society – by their very nature, this is where notions of the ‘real’, or at least authentically relevant accounts of this, are found – and subsequent inspiration is then taken from these prominent cultural episodes. I suspect if any essential changes are to occur, then yet again their origins will originate there, within the shadows of mainstream culture – and in this instance I propose this will occur away from, and contrary to, the multi-national financial elite and our current system so driven by markets, profits and financial power and all their ever increasing influences.

After this process of ‘scene setting’ and in order to briefly comment on Davies’s preceding texts, which I consider have led us up to my basic plan for action and its steps for allowing a new and constructive dialogue to take place, I will now initiate this discussion and following this, will present my considered thoughts on the matter.

Central to any proposed actions relating to this issue; at the outset I deem there should be a fundamental principle at its core. In this case, I have sited and will utilise the Hegelian master–slave dialectic[1] as the foundation to my initial proposal. From my understanding of these ideas I surmise, that in order to enact real substantial transformations within the hierarchical structures that control, position and which form much of mainstream culture and education – as a group, and the key point in this theory: being the overwhelming majority of young individuals and other marginalised groups within our society – the current resigned embracing of this detrimental system by us the majority, must firstly cease to occur. The blind hope that one will become a member of the ‘chosen few’ or that the system will in someway evolve itself into something which begins to work for the majority of it’s citizens (in this context, it’s young citizens), in my view this type of optimism, that which sustains these social structures, history has proven this compliance is plainly futile. All prior ideological shifts and changes, or real counter cultural movements – of which Punk would be one such development – when placed under any form of basic analysis, would never have ‘just happened’ without proper inaction. By allowing current assenting and conservative behaviour to go on festering, will continue to be detrimental to this cause; a cause which can only be tackled through proper substantial actions. Through creating, or simply infusing a certain mindset(s) and a particular non-confirmative outlook within art, culture and higher educational institutions, this could, and I suspect would, spread to other social channels also – as has often proven to be the case in the past when considering important counter cultural progress.


A subsequent ‘plan for action’ will be published next Saturday, the 16th of November. This will contain a proposed list of the first basic steps needed in order to stimulate a course for change and will conclude the ‘Afterthought’ to Edgar Davies’s, Something akin to Punk: And the Apathetic Generation.


[1] Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s (1770 – 1831) master-and-slave dialectic (also called lordship and bondage) is a theory taken from his book Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) in which Hegel questions the relationship and struggle (explicitly metaphoric in nature) between the ‘Master’ and the ‘Slave’. This study specifically examines aspects within this social process relating to consciousness, mediation and subordination.

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